Friday, 21 April 2017

LEJoG 2017: the final month preparation...

 Donate to Public Health Collaboration UK

One month to go!

Route plotting is done.  Kit is mostly locked in, with a couple of changes to test before completely finalising.  Training mostly done - in so far as you can train for this sort of thing.  And now it's a great time to talk about the charity I'm intending to raise awareness of and funds for...

Public Health Collaboration (PHC) is a a charity dedicated to focusing on improving public health in the UK, through research, providing resources and information about issues relating to lifestyle and health in this age of avoidable and reversible obesity, diabetes, dementia and other metabolic syndrome related problems that increasing number of people are suffering from.  The advisory board is made up of consultant cardiologists (Dr Aseem Malhotra), psychologists, (including Dr Tamsin Lewis @sportiedoc) GPs and a Professor of Obesity research (Prof. John (Iain) Broom).

I was pretty overweight myself in the past (only *just* technically obese by the BMI ratio measure), and when the shock(s) came and I started to take control, I eventually came across lots of information relating not just to weight loss and healthy weight maintenance but also the impact of diet on other factors than weight, including brain and heart health.  Thanks to an initial curiosity and refusal to believe that counting calories for the rest of my life was the only answer to maintaining a healthy weight, I crossed paths with Dr Tamsin Lewis, who set me down the path of learning and research into what goes on with what you eat and how it affects your body in the short and the long term. And taking control of these things for myself (11 years on after losing 30kg, I'm still a healthy weight and started sport 6 years ago, finally really able to enjoy it!). Yes, there are ranges of behaviour and response, but there are limits and at some point things start to break in the short and, more horribly, the long term becomes a lot less long even when once of your symptoms is not becoming overweight.

So... take a look at what PHC are about and then head on over to my fund-raising page on TotalGiving (all donations go directly to the charity) and consider giving a little to help turn the tide of poor health in the UK for now and for the future!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

LEJoG 2017 - 7 weeks to go. This just got real!

7 weeks to go...

Last weekend I went for a back-to-back 20 miles Saturday and Sunday, with a camping kit test overnight in between.  This is the first time I've slept out with all of my gear and the first time I've really gone any appreciable distance with full pack.  And it went really pretty well.

Yes, I got pretty cold overnight.  But, hey, it's March!  Even in Scotland in June it won't drop that low overnight.  All my kit was good, except for the sleeping mat, which moved about underneath me and just wasn't that great. I kept finding it half-way down my back and off to one side.  So, I've gone for a slightly heavier, full length one instead. Which should arrive this week.

I also came across a number of obstacles...

I can't even...

And trials...

Gave up after 6 miles of this and lots of folks not being sympathetic to a pedestrian observing the highway code
I've been ticking through plotting the route, heavily inspired by Linda Brackenbury's book.  Her route really took my fancy as it's one of the shortest I've seen and it avoids roads a huge amount.  Her trip was over 70 days and mostly ended each 15ish mile day in a hostel or B&B, which all lines up to being perfect for me to use and modify where necessary.  I've combined many of the early days in pairs, but left some of the later, more lengthy days of her route in place so there are some 20ish mile ones when I hit Scotland and it gets a bit hillier.  So I'm looking at 37 days as a minimum and 42 as a maximum right now.

Actually not Scotland, but a tiny bump in Central Park, New York
I've also been run-commuting with my pack fully loaded.  Doing between 5 and 7 miles each day so as not to overload myself unnecessarily.  And this carries through when I'm traveling for work, so there's a bit of a temperature variation as well as scenery (and more than a little trouble with GPS where I am this week).

I'm nervous.  I'm not quite finished plotting the route yet and problems with the Ordnance Survey web site every now and then, usually when I've actually got time to dedicate to route plotting, really isn't helping.  And then there's the map buying to ensure I actually have OS maps when I'm not in mobile data coverage... ($$$!)

Not long now!

Monday, 27 March 2017

2017 Curry Recipes: 1 - Butter Cauliflower and Chickpeas

I've finally got 10 mins to write down the first of my current trio of great curry recipes, so here it is!


Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main.

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1 tin of chickpeas (drained)
  • 1 medium onion, sliced finely
  • 100-150g salted butter (for a vegan version, use 100g coconut oil)
  • 1 small can coconut cream (160-200ml)
  • 2 tbsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 150-200ml double cream (for a vegan version, double the amount of coconut cream and omit this)
  • 1x red chilli, sliced finely.
  • 1 pinch smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp toasted, desiccated coconut
  • salt to taste
  • toasted flaked almonds and coconut chips or shavings to serve
  1. Toast the desiccated coconut and set aside.
  2. Toast the almond flakes and coconut chips/shavings and set aside.
  3. Sweat the sliced onion in a pan with half of the butter until the onion is translucent and sticky.
  4. Add the cauliflower chunks and the rest of the butter, tossing the cauliflower until it is coated with the hot butter.
  5. Sprinkle the turmeric and paprika into the pan and toss the cauliflower until it is fully coated. add more butter if the cauliflower doesn't get fully coated with the golden liquid and you can see white patches still.
  6. Cook the cauliflower for a little while until it starts to soften.
  7. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two, then add the coconut cream.
  8. Cook the mixture and as it thickens, add the double cream, desiccated coconut and ground almond.
  9. Cook until the cauliflower softens nicely, add a little water if the sauce gets too thick - it should end up thick enough to stick to a spoon and not drip off.
  10. For the final couple of minutes of cooking, add the sliced chilli, then drained chick peas, then Garam Masala (don't cook that too long or it will taste bitter).
  11. Season with salt to taste (don't add it too early or the chick peas will harden and be crunchy).
  12. When ready to serve, spoon onto serving dish and garnish with the toasted almond flakes and coconut chips/shavings.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

LEJoG 2017 - FAQs Part 1

It's definitely time to put out some FAQs here as I've had more than a few questions so far:

1 - Who/What charity are you running for?

I'd normally get pretty pissy with this question in relation to races and/or touring runs. I  run because I enjoy it.  I may not be an elite athlete and I'm never going to win a race, be fastest at anything etc. but I really do enjoy it.  I also find it uncomfortable and distasteful to beg for money from friends, family and strangers, especially for enjoying myself and doing something I'm pretty sure I'll achieve.

However.  This is different.  1000 miles is an 'ing long way, especially considering I'm carrying all my own stuff.  So it's actually a challenge that I'm not certain I'll complete.  I also finally have found a cause I really do care about (and they just got charitable status, but not yet set up on a mass fund-raising site yet, so watch this space).  This time, yes, I will be raising money and awareness for


2 - You're running a long way, in the middle of nowhere a lot; what about food?


So.  I almost always run before eating; my stomach is just happier that way.  I'm OK eating *while* running but generally in the morning it works out better if I start out before breaking fast.  I'm intending to eat one meal per day, usually.  It worked really well on my 6 day running tours and I often eat 2 or fewer meals per day anyway these days.  I'll carry some emergency food for when I end up camping wild and away from anywhere I can buy food for the day.

On a related note; water. I'll be carrying 1.5L. That's heavy.  Water is all over the place, in shops, pubs, cafes, etc. as well as springs (there's a ton of them all over the place) and I have capability to purify 80L over the time I'm away.

3 - Have you practised putting up your tent in a howling gale and downpour?


Three points on this one.  A. I'm not intending to camp every night - I'm carrying a tent for the times I want to stop for the day and there is no hut/bothy/yurt/barn/B&B/hostel or cheap hotel.  B. There are extremely few exposed parts of the route I have mapped (plus, I'd have to be really unlucky to get that sort of appalling weather in June).  And C. my tent is *extremely* easy to put up.  In a light breeze, it takes just over a minute.  (and a couple of minutes to put away)

4 - Have you checked your stove is safe to use inside your tent?

It isn't.

Again, two points. A. see above about weather/exposure. and B. Heck no! It is *never* safe to use a gas camping stove in an enclosed/unventilated space.  If I'm camping and the weather is appalling and there's nowhere nearby to get a warm meal/drink, I just won't have one. It won't kill me.

5 - Can I come and run with you?

Mostly no.  For safety reasons, my location will be known to very few people, and by a satellite tracker.  I may make an exception for the last day of my run, which is planned to be only 8 miles up to Duncansby Head, but *when* I'll get there is pretty much down to how things go in the 36-41 days before that.

I'll have a PLB a bit like this one. But not this one. A different one.

6 - Safety?

This is the big one.  I'll never be more than 15 miles from civilisation in some form.  I've got a satellite tracker/personal locator beacon that will last for 45 days of active tracking at a 10 minute interval before I need to replace the battery (and I'll have spares).

Being in the UK, there's pretty much nothing venomous enough to really do damage, and no large predators that would want to eat me.  I'm reasonably experienced with bull, cow, sheep and horse wrangling where I need to get by and they're in the way.

7 - Aren't you going to get really tired?


And... I'll get hot, cold, scratched, sore shoulders, sore feet, back ache, cut, stung, grazed, blisters, sun burn, wind burn and chafing.  I'll probably have nights with very little sleep.  I'll also trip and/or fall over, especially when I'm tired.  And I'll make poor decisions through inexperience and/or tiredness.   I've also got a route that avoids any of the particularly difficult parts of the UK; the Pennines, most of the Lake District, the Cairngorms.  Anywhere really high that can get difficult in "weather" is off the route.

This isn't a walk in the park.  It isn't easy.  It's a very long way.  I'm not deliberately setting out to sit on a spike here, but without increasing the time for the trip (which would cost me a lot of lost earnings at work) and spending a *lot* of money and/or carrying a *lot* more kit, it's not going to be a luxury trip.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Race Report: Moyleman 2017

Trail marathons are never 26.2 miles long.  If you want exactly 26.2 miles, run a road marathon.  The same applies to any standard distance race name applied to off-road running.  And I'm OK with that. More than OK in fact, but it often results in weird conversations with non/road runners afterwards.

 Other Person -  "Oh you ran a marathon? What time did you get?"
 Me - "Um, 5 and a half hours."
 Other Person - *disappointed noise*

Most people know "The Marathon" as the race that's run in the spring in London and are unaware that there are other races of that distance that are called marathons too.  A subset of those people think that marathons are 26.2 miles run on road and/or don't realise that they're not always flat, and so any time under 4 hours (or whatever their weird uncle ran 15 years ago) is usually greeted by "oh that's alright then" but anything over 4 hours is usually considered pedestrian.  Fewer still understand that there are such things as marathons that are run off-road, and sometimes even up and down hills, moors, bogs, mountains even.  And once you go away from flat and off the road, all bets are off with times.  But, these are generally not people whose opinion I value when it comes to running.

The Moyleman is an off road marathon run in the South Downs.  It's a bit hilly, occasionally muddy and is actually approximately 26.2 miles.  I attempted it last year, but ran into trouble on the day and pulled out at half way.  It was the first of two races that helped me to understand that my stomach prefers to start a morning run empty (turns out I can eat fine while I'm running or afterwards, but sometimes when I eat before a morning run my stomach isn't happy about it and gets painful).

I went in with an aim to get around with no heroics; approx 50 mile pace. Conditions much better this year for this race. No slippery chalk and very little mud. A touch warm for the first half though. Took a long time to warm up properly, felt really lumbering despite only 1kg pack. Trashed my quads quite early on with really bad descending - seems I've forgotten how to do that. Got pretty pissed off with water station 2 (mile 10) having no water; I'd not re-stocked at mile 5 because I'd not had much of my bottle, and had about 1/4 bottle left at that point. No water for me!

Got pretty bored with the scenery and had a bit of a chat with myself at half way where the only way to DNF was to walk into town and wait for a bus - might as well get on with it!

Half way/relay handover point was a shambles; couldn't even find the water tables due to relay runners crowding around them. Eventually figured it out, filled up and carried on. Over the last half I overtook about 20 people, which was psychologically boosting. Squeaked my way down the last couple of hills - quads pretty sore and "sprinted" the last 150m or so. 5.5ish hours, pretty happy with that given the "no heroics" goal. Quads are pretty ruined though! 3,200ft of ascent and even more descent overall.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

LEJoG 2017 - 10 weeks to go!

I've got just over 10 weeks to go before I start running from Land's End to John O'Groats. That came around quickly!  Training, in as much as you can train for this sort of thing, went through a bad patch for a couple of weeks but is turning a corner again now.

I had a stretch of maybe two and a half weeks where every single run was awful.  I couldn't hit the pace on any efforts, everything felt really hard, I was too tired and stressed to fit in all my planned runs and I was getting really wound up about it all.  But then, as with all endurance events, things started to get better again.  Running to/from work is helped by great views like these, now that the days are getting lighter:

Hello goosey!

Turns out it's quite good running on that bank in the morning before the tourists descend

And my local trail haunts are gorgeous:

North Downs Way - my absolute favourite so far.

This run stopped me from going totally bonkers recently!

A few administrative points are coming together too; I have found a charity I would like to support and I'll talk more about that in a few weeks time once they've sorted out Gift Aid applications and I can link to a donations page for folks to help the cause. Looking to get one or two companies to support a little too, waiting to hear back from folks who know how to do that sort of thing because I have no idea how to go about it (too damned English and self-effacing!).

I've tested out putting up my tent and my tea/hot food making capability:

Needs a bit more practice with the roof tension.

Super roomy, length-wise and I'm not short.

This little fella is my best friend! And my trusty Asics :)
And after a false start with a different 30L one, I've found a pack to run with that fits properly, doesn't bounce around when I run and has perfect capacity for what I want to take with me.  It makes me feel a bit self-conscious when I run with it at the moment as it's designed for and marketed towards the Marathon des Sables market, but it's perfect and thanks to MyRaceKit for shipping swiftly so I could get on with using it and getting used to it!

Raidlight 30L Ultraraid Vest (shown here with iSIS Freeloader solar cell)

I've also put my spreadsheet skills to good use with a tool to figure out pack weight depending on what I'm carrying.  I just select the number of each item, it calculates the total weight and it's reusable for any event or training run :)

Friday, 17 February 2017

LEJoG 2017 - Filling in the blanks

Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, I learned how to use a map and compass. I was intending to do a Duke of Edinburgh bronze award and went on a course to learn how to navigate. I have no idea why it never went any further than that and I never ended up using those navigation skills in anger. I didn't end up going on expedition and I didn't get a Duke of Edinburgh award.

That was 30ish years ago (ow. that sounds like a long time!). And with various races across unmarked trails or off my comfort zone with three various barriers to navigation I've tended to stick to races or routes that are marked in some way; either by race organisation or it's a National Trail and had those lovely acorn signs all the way along.

Now I have a Very Long Way(TM) to run later this year, on a route of my own design that is not marked in any way. I don't want to get lost. I don't want to waste time and energy on taking wrong turns or missing right turns. I need to be able to navigate and not fall apart if my technology fails. Errors add up and I've only got 6 weeks to get the job done!

So I'm off to Cumbria to take a basic navigation course; map, compass and the landmarks of the countryside. I'm hoping to learn a bit also on rough navigation without map and compass, just general geographical direction. Let's see how I do!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

LEJoG 2017 - starting to plan

With 120 days or so to go, planning is kicking off now!

Things to plan:

  • Route
  • Kit
  • Emergencies
  • Training
  • Sponsorhip?
Kit - I've had an initial think about kit. I'll need the flexibility of camping and sometimes camping not at a camp site, so that will appreciably add to my pack weight. This could get tricky and it'll mean getting used to a decent pack weight carefully without injuring myself.  I'll also need to figure out how to put my tent up (paved garden means I can't do it at home) and try it out a good few times.

Route - I want it to be as off-road as possible, but not being stupid about taking a trail route that's 25%+ longer and way more difficult than roads in places like the South West. e.g. I *could* take the South West Coast Path, but that's really difficult and appreciably longer than going inland a bit, staying North of the A30, and taking some back roads in between footpaths & bridleways.  Ideally I'd like to be on National Trails where practical as they're generally scenic and well-marked, so navigation is easy. I see the Pennine Way and Offa's Dyke or maybe the Cotswold Way featuring at least in part.

Training - I'm chatting with my coach this coming weekend, about the shape of this year and how we did a good job for Thames Path and North Downs Way the last two times.  In some ways, you can't really train for 40+ days on your feet, but you can sure make it easier at the start.

Emergencies - will depend on routing as to what provisions I'll need.  More thinking once the approximate route is taking shape.  Suggestions and recommendations welcome when that happens!

Sponsorship - I've been considering whether to raise money for a cause and/or ask for help from outdoors companies.  Though I generally sit on the side of doing sport for the love of it, I'm leaning on the side of choosing to raise money for through this challenge. Public Health Collaboration is doing stuff I really care about and I'd like to support that.  LEJoG will be a genuine challenge for me - previous events and races I've been pretty sure of completing, but this is a different game altogether.  If I decide to go through with that, I'll set up a JustGiving page for it.

It's also going to be expensive to do this run. 4ish weeks of unpaid time off work (after I've used up my holiday allowance for the year), plus kit and consumables adds up.  I've no experience asking for help from companies, so no idea how that might go.  It'd really help to get a few items covered though and there are some companies products I already love and swear by that I'd love to evangelise (Icebreaker, Petzl, Garmin, Haglofs...).  If anyone can help with that, please let me know!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Race Report: Country to Capital 2017

Country to Capital is a landmark in the race calendar to kick off the year. Starting in Wendover, winding through woods, back lanes and fields to Uxbridge then on canals from there to Little Venice,. 43-ish miles in total, there's a lot on tarmac in the first section,;the rest can be muddy and slippery and the unrelenting flatness of the last 23-ish miles pretty harsh.

It was awesome to know the course pretty well.  Having run the race twice previously (2014 and 2016) and gone for a recce run of the first 13 miles on Christmas Day, there was no need to worry about route finding at all.  Yes, the route isn't marked, but if you know it already that doesn't matter.

We'd agreed we'd run this one together as a "nice day out". Unfortunately it wasn't that nice really. The forecast of overcast then sunny and dry didn't pan out. It started off chilly and breezy, then it started raining, which turned into snow. The cold set in early. We zipped through CP1 without stopping, only slowing to get our timing chips checked in. The checkpoints at this race are pretty limited in terms of food choices (which is good, as my strategy is in-out-gone): mainly cake and jelly babies, but some savoury at CP3 and the end (mini pastry snacks - pork pies, cheese and onion things etc.). They're really good at checking runners through and helping to fill bottles, but beyond that it's pretty minimal and nothing hot, which is hard on a day like this.

I noticed my breathing wasn't quite right early on - breathing too hard for the effort level.  Then my right hamstring got niggly and my brain wasn't being supportive of running well. I got a bit whiney, but MrTOTKat stayed mostly within earshot and waited every now and then for me to catch up. Darkness in the brain was telling me to give up, but that's actually quite hard to do on this route. Checkpoints are far from any useful transport options and as it's point to point, once you're beyond a certain distance you may as well get to the end anyway for the time it would take.

From well before hitting the canal at Uxbridge, I was finding it hard to run the flats all that much. So we were run/walking already before 20 miles in.  Compared with the 2 previous runnings of this race I've done, I was in much worse shape at this stage. Food didn't help and the cold was causing difficulties with my hamstrings. Even when it stopped snowing, it was still really chilly.

MrTOTKat was awesome. I was whingey and petulant even at time, but he was encouraging and supportive; if he'd not been with me, the last 23 miles of the race (and in particular the last 12 or so) would have been miserable instead of just difficult. We jog/walked until the last checkpoint, where it turned out we were 65 mins or so ahead of the cut-off time so we could walk the rest in if we really needed to.

We crossed the line together, freezing cold and in the pitch black. Almost last, but together and in good spirits. It took warm food, many hours and an additional 3 layers to stop shivering hard with the cold. The medal was nicer than last year's, but I think I might have finally realised after three times with this race, that I simply don't enjoy the route. I need to remember that when I'm next tempted to sign up for it.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

LEJoG 2017 - a 1,000 mile training run

[Not the actual route as all on road would be miserable.  More off road is appreciably longer!]
I've wanted to traverse the length of Britain on foot for quite some time and a couple of years ago a window of opportunity almost came up, but then I got a job again so it didn't even get to the planning stage.

Due to an extremely flexible and accommodating employer, I have the opportunity to do it this year.  Starting in May-ish, through June into early July-ish (depending on unforeseen circumstances and work schedule in May).  I've got 44 days to get to Land's End, run to John O'Groats and get home again, and that's including contingency.  It'll take a day to get to the start and a day to get home afterwards, so that's 42 days to cover something around 950-1100 miles, depending on the route I end up with, and a lot of elevation.  And carrying all my own stuff.

Of course, finding a route is the hard part.  I've already spent a day getting really frustrated with trying to get out of the South West using trails and avoiding the South West Coast Path (because it's really super hard!).   It turns out most of the roads in the area have no pedestrian facility either (thanks Streetview!).  So I now have OS Landrangers 203 and 204, up to 182 (thanks to a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), which I will be laying out on the lounge floor to try to get a much higher level view of where the trails/off-road paths are in relation to each other and have another go.  Once I'm out of the South West, routing gets a whole lot easier with some good other National Trails in Offa's Dyke, the Pennine Way etc.

It's all an elaborate training run for Deadwater at the end of July though!  And an excuse to blog a bit more in the planning and the running of it, and take a bajillion photos.

 Vote for me!